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     January 2007

Education Up Close

Helping Remedial and Reluctant Readers

While most students entering secondary school are expected to read on a secondary level, effective classroom teachers recognize that some secondary students are lagging in reading skills.

Those students who are not strong readers often are not as successful as they could be in a given content area. Their progress is slow without the help of an observant and effective teacher.

By understanding the challenges that remedial and reluctant readers face, teachers can apply appropriate strategies to assist these students in the secondary content classroom.

Understanding Student Readers
Student readers can be classified into three broad categories: strategic readers, reluctant readers, and remedial readers.

Strategic readers are able to use strategies, such as prediction, drawing inferences, recognizing cause and effect relationships, summarizing, questioning, and rereading. These strategies permit comprehension of a text on or above the instructional reading level.

Reluctant readers usually are able to read any material that is interesting to them. Reluctant readers are frustrated by text they find difficult and do not understand how to effectively apply reading strategies to ease their burden.

Remedial readers typically enter high school reading several grade levels below their peers. They have a limited vocabulary and few internalized strategic reading skills. Often, remedial readers have stalled at or below a fourth-grade reading level and need help reading and understanding information from high school texts.

While strategic readers generally need little content reading instruction, reluctant and remedial readers require reading instruction and intervention in order to succeed in the content area.

Distinguishing Between Students Who Cannot Read
and Those Who Will Not Read

One of the most important steps in reading instruction is determining if a student cannot read or simply will not read. If a school reading specialist is available, request to have the student tested. The information provided by such testing, such as a grade level reading equivalent and instructional reading level, is invaluable.

Students reading independently on a seventh grade reading level might require more text-explicit questions to read and understand expository texts, whereas remedial readers need more intense modeling of reading skills in order to comprehend the text.

If professional testing is not available, conduct a private informal reading assessment yourself. Organize a series of increasingly difficult passages that reflect the content you teach. Ask the student to read aloud each passage as you note such things as the student's application of decoding skills, fluency, and reading rate. Ask a few carefully chosen recall and inference questions to assess comprehension.

While informal testing is less conclusive than formal reading assessment, the content teacher can develop an idea of a student's capability and then attempt interventions and instruction to help this student succeed. Regardless of whether a student is labeled as remedial or reluctant, there are specific strategies teachers can apply that will permit these students access to the complex content involved in secondary- level classes.

Use the information you glean from reading assessments to determine how to manipulate the reading materials in your content area to suit this student's weaknesses. Ultimately, teachers concerned with making the content accessible to reluctant and remedial readers will ease students into the content, expecting more and more independent reading as students become confident and able to read the text.

Techniques for Helping Struggling Readers

Offer a Wide Range of Reading Materials
Organize a wide range of reading materials for each unit of study in your classroom. Typically, a secondary classroom relies on the textbook as the primary source of information, but standard textbooks are sometimes not enough for remedial or reluctant readers. An article from a periodical, a primary source document, ancillary textbook program materials, or an online source might intrigue the reluctant or remedial reader.

When choice is offered, the reluctant reader feels empowered to determine material with which he or she is comfortable, and the teacher feels confident that the student is gleaning the required content from an alternative, appropriate source.

If a student is reading below grade level, there are specific steps the content teacher can take to make the textbook accessible, and repetition of these steps is integral to success.

Use Pre-Reading Techniques
First, teach students the structure of the textbook. Usually, the paragraphs in a textbook begin with the main idea, subsequent sentences are details, and the final sentence is a summary. Teachers who repeatedly model the structure of the text for students give them access to the text.

Activate prior knowledge in students before asking them to read. Ask leading questions to force students to determine what they already know about a subject; this provides a mental framework upon which new information can be hung.

Additionally, provide pre-reading questions to students. Such questions are essential for comprehension in these students.

Finally, encourage students to pre-read the assignment by examining the photographs, bold words, headings, and key terms. While these steps may seem time-consuming, such interventions are crucial to making the text accessible to reluctant or remedial readers.

Incorporate Large-Print Materials
Whenever possible, use large-print materials. Reluctant and remedial readers are often intimidated by small print; subconsciously they feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of words on the page.

Consider the font size, pictures, and sentence structure of lower-level materials, and reformulate difficult text as frequently as possible to mimic the large print, applicable pictures, and subject/verb/object structure found in lower-level materials. Transforming text is time-consuming, but the reward is students who are confident about reading.

Engage Multiple Modalities
Involve varying modalities in reading assignments. Careful observation of a reluctant or remedial reader will reveal his or her most effective learning modality. Some students who are baffled when asked to read an assignment silently reveal remarkable comprehension when they listen to the same passage.

When varying modalities are included in reading assignments, the odds are more favorable for comprehension. For example, ask struggling readers to complete a map while reading about specific regions, to build a graphic organizer while reading about cell structure, or to create a mathematical equation with magnetic numbers while reading a word problem.

Reading assignments that combine tangible and intangible activities engage students of varying learning styles, and this aids comprehension.

Teach Important Vocabulary
Be sure reluctant readers understand essential vocabulary. Struggling readers are accustomed to experiencing frustration when reading, and some of this frustration is relieved when students do not have to decode the same words repeatedly during a reading assignment.

Organize and teach high-frequency, essential vocabulary before each reading assignment. Teach students to make flashcards with the word and pronunciation on the front, and the definition and an illustration of the definition on the back. Show students how to use each side of the card to visualize the information contained on the reverse side, and encourage students to maintain their cards for immediate review.

We Share the Responsibility

For numerous reasons, some children enter school already behind in reading and often maintain that reluctant/remedial label throughout their educational careers.

In many homes, reading falls far down the line of priorities, and schools are left with the sole responsibility for teaching students to read. Thus, educational institutions from primary grades to secondary grades work twice as hard to teach large numbers of students basic literacy skills. You can, however, structure your teaching to aid reluctant and remedial readers.

* * *
This article was contributed by Janice West-Christy, M.Ed., English Department Chair, Louisa County High School, Louisa, Virginia. Ms. Christy coordinates an at-risk language arts program for Louisa County High School and teaches both at-risk and gifted ninth-grade students.

Read More About It

Motivating Low Performing Adolescent Readers
ERIC Digest Prepared by Norma Decker Collins
This article discusses "motivating the low performing adolescent in a remedial reading or subject area classroom. The premise is that students who are disengaged from their own learning processes are not likely to perform well in school."

ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
This ERIC Web site provides a wealth of information for teachers, including research papers, lesson plans, Web resources, digests, online activities and a family information center.

Content Literacy Information Consortium
Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
This organization's Web site provides "an organized set of web links of special interest to teachers and researchers interested in issues defined by "learning to read to learn." The web sites cataloged in CLIC will provide every teacher with ideas and strategies for adopting the instructional moves that empower their students to become independent, actualized learners. "

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